Papakauri, a taniwha

An extract from 'THE TIPUA-KURA, AND OTHER MANIFESTATIONS OF THE SPIRIT WORLD.' By Lieut.-Colonel Gudgeon, C.M.G., published in Journal of the Polynesian Society, Volume 15, 1906, pp 27-57.

...Papakauri is an enchanted tree, whose history is even more mysterious than that of Papataunaki, related in a previous article. It is, moreover, surrounded by such a web of superstition of a truly unexplainable nature that it will be difficult to make myself intelligible to Europeans. I am, indeed, conscious that the pakeha side of my brain does not understand the tale as related to me, whereas on the Maori side it is clear enough. I think I have already remarked that tipuas are an exception to the rule, that all things are subject to the great laws that govern the universe. Tipuas obey no law, whether human or divine, but are somewhat amenable to karakias when uttered by a tohunga of reputation. With this preliminary warning, I will commence my tale by saying that at one period of its history Papakauri was a tree pure and simple, and that subsequently it became a tipua; but at what particular stage of its existence it changed its nature and became possessed of a spirit is not known. Still less is it known why it did all those things which I am about to record, and all of which are matters of history among the Ngati-Maru of Hauraki.

At that remote period when, as I have said, Papakauri was a tree, it grew and flourished at Opokura, near Okauia, on the Waihou River; but after many years it came to pass that this tree was uprooted, and lay where it fell for several generations, until a flood of more than ordinary magnitude floated the trunk down stream towards Hauraki. With the tree came a certain ngarara known as Hinarepe (probably a lizard), who, it would seem, was also a tipua, inasmuch as on its way down the river it landed at Te Konehu, a tunga uira (a place where lightning is frequently seen to flash), and there bit a stone which was the shrine of the lightning at that place. Now, this act had the greatest possible significance, since the mere fact of biting any object has the effect of depriving the person or thing bitten of his mana, and that mana is by such action removed to the biter thereof. Therefore this act of Hinarepe removed the mana (which in this instance was the lightning) from the stone at Te Konehu. This done, Hinarepe returned to Papakauri, and the two floated down stream until they reached Te Kairere, where the former landed and established another tunga uira with the lightning taken from Te Konehu, and when it had done these things the two tipua floated out into the Hauraki Gulf and touched at Hauturu (Little Barrier Island), where Hinarepe landed and passes out of this story.

Papakauri, deserted by its familiar spirit, returned to the Waihou River, and was moving quietly back to its old home at Okauia when it was seen by Maiotaki, a chief of the Ngati-Maru, who, being a man of experience, recognised that the log was a tipua of great mana, since it was moving up stream against the current; he therefore stopped it by a powerful incantation. Meanwhile, the chief Tamure at Okauia had missed his sacred tree, and had therefore opened up communications with his gods in order to ascertain the whereabouts of this errant member of the tribe. In a very short time he was told that his tipua was at Waihou, and he at once started off in his canoe in order to recover this much-valued spirit. While yet a long way off, at Huirau, he stood up in his canoe and chanted a most potent ngare (spell) of such mana that it even affected Maiotaki, who thus became aware that Tamure was trying to recover Papakauri. Then began the great struggle between the rival tohungas. In vain Papakauri struggled to free itself; the gods of Maiotaki held it fast until Tamure (who by this time had arrived upon the scene) had to confess himself vanquished, and yielded gracefully, saying, “You have our ancestor, behave generously to him.”

The dispute having ended amicably, Maiotaki invited Tamure to his village, and on the following morning permitted him to obtain a share of the lightning from the shrine at Te Kairere. This done Tamure covered his head with some of the garments which had been propitiatory offerings to Papakauri, and returned to Te Konehu, where he restored the lightning to the stone at that place. Certain - 31  it is that Tamure did not rob Te Kairere of all its mana for it is still a tunga uira. And the lightning never fails to record the occurrence of any serious misfortune to the chief descendants of Maiotaki. The flashes were seen on the instant that Kohu fell in battle at Otama-rakau, and the same omen of death and disaster marked the fact that Whaiapu had been drowned off the island of Waiheke.

I may explain that the expressions tuna uira or rua kanapu are used to denote places where lightning is frequently seen to quiver as though hanging over that particular place, and these names have reference to one of the most deeply seated of all Maori superstitions, viz., that every tribe of mana has one or more places where, in the event of actual misfortune happening to the leading members of the tribe, the lightning is seen to flash like a column downwards to the earth. It is said that the lightning does even more than this, that it will actually foretell coming misfortune, and that tohungas who are learned in such matters could, by the appearance of the flashes, determine whether the misfortunes were present or to appear in the near future. Should men of the tribe be absent on some distant warlike expedition and meet with a serious reverse, the lightning would in such case notify the fact to those remaining at home. Tunga uira are not always tribal; in some cases where the family is of exalted rank, it will be found that they are the proud owners of a place of this sort in their own right, and I need hardly say that it is a very great distinction, for if a family has a tunga uira it is proof positive that their rank and social status is recognised not only by the powers above but also by those of the nether world...